Imagining Joyful Learning Spaces

Quote from Joyful book

This past month our innovation team has been fortunate to work with a school staff that is looking to reimagine their library space. Currently a traditional space with plain walls, a large circulation desk, and giant book shelves, the staff is wanting to build a space that reflects the joy of learning they want students to experience every day. In their words:

Imagine a space where students of all ages and adults could create, innovate, and explore the world in an inspiring and natural environment designed to enlighten and change the world! Students need a way to access a variety of learning and discovery spaces in order to respect their age and place in the world and ignite their inner genius and advance the world.

We’ve been using the design thinking process to guide us on the journey, which has been a fabulous way to keep us grounded in the WHY of our work. Today, I realized that a consistent theme kept reemerging during every brainstorm or prototype session – JOY.

Adults design schools. Adults who have been schooled for years on how to build buildings. And then adults come in and furnish those buildings. They paint the walls. They choose the chairs. Somewhere in that process, the children become secondary. And often times, so does joy.

Which brings me to the book Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee.

In her book, Fetell Lee points out that joy isn’t reserved for religious gurus that have attained enlightenment. In fact, it can be found all around us. She summarizes 10 big ideas in which joy can be found:

  1. Harness the power of color.
  2. Live abundantly.
  3. Find your freedom.
  4. Discover harmony.
  5. Fill your life with playful shapes.
  6. Surprise yourself.
  7. Go higher.
  8. Feel the magic.
  9. Spread the love.
  10. Start anew.

Schools, and libraries, should truly be places of joy. They should allow for playful wonder. Fetell Lee explains that “play etches itself deeply into our memories for a good reason: it is the only known activity that humans engage in solely because it produces joy. ”

Play lets us practice give-and-take, through which we learn empathy and fairness. It also promotes flexible thinking and problem solving, which increases our resilience and help us adapt to change. When we play, our awareness of time diminishes, and our self-consciousness fades. Play can put us in a powerful flow state, which allows us to let go of everyday worries and be absorbed in the joy of the moment.

Joyful, by Ingrid Fetell Lee

Children understand joy. All you have to do is listen to them dream up the new library to know that they can see that which adults often forget. Their vision of the space includes waterfalls, cafes, and a loft… they see color, comfortable seats, and places for both quiet and social gatherings. They hear music and feel texture. They break down the barriers and let in nature’s beauty. They get it.

And so did the adults in the room today. I’m excited for the future wonder and joy that awaits the students and staff as they turn their prototypes into a joyful place that ignites genius and empowers students to advance the world.

Stay tuned…

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